The Colorado Avalanche have done without right wing Claude Lemieux in two previous playoff games. They'll have to do it again.
Lemieux was suspended for the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals for his blind-side check on Detroit Red Wings forward Kris Draper in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals last Wednesday.The hit sent Draper into the boards face-first, and he sustained a fractured jaw, a broken nose and severe facial lacerations and has had to undergo surgery.
In a strongly worded decision handed down Sunday, the NHL termed Lemieux's hit a "cheap shot" and "premeditated."
Lemieux was also fined $1,000, the maximum allowed.
Draper was disappointed in the severity of the punishment.
"I didn't think the league would have the (guts) to step in and do what was right," Draper told The Detroit News in a telephone interview. "I didn't think guys like (Commissioner) Gary Bettman or (NHL vice president) Brian Burke would do what they should. Any respect I had for Gary Bettman and Brian Burke is right out the window."
The suspension is the first for a player in the Stanley Cup finals in the 19 years the league's supplementary discipline system has been in place.
Lemieux previously was suspended for Game 4 against Detroit after sucker-punching Vyacheslav Kozlov in the previous game. After hitting Draper at 14:07 of the first period of Game 6, he was assessed a major penalty for checking from behind and a game misconduct, resulting in his ejection.
The Avalanche won both of those games.
Lemieux will miss games Tuesday and Thursday nights in Denver against the Florida Panthers.
The decision to suspend Lemieux was rendered by Burke, NHL senior vice president and director of hockey operations, following a telephone hearing Saturday with Lemieux, his agent, Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix and a representative of the NHL players association.
"The facts of the incident are clear," Burke said in a written statement. "Mr. Draper was skating toward the Red Wings bench as he was being checked legally by Avalanche player Joe Sakic.
"When he was within several feet of the players' bench, he was checked from behind with excessive force by Mr. Lemieux, causing his face to strike the upper portion of the boards."
Burke said Lemieux had "ample opportunity to avoid the cheap shot against his opponent, which appeared premeditated."
He said Draper was "totally unaware of the impending hit and was defenseless (and) unable to protect himself."
"We totally disagree (with the suspension)," Lacroix said. "I still can't believe this decision. I have a hard time thinking our club will start the Stanley Cup finals without the Conn Smythe Trophy winner from last year's playoffs. He's an important part of this hockey club.
"I don't think it's fair to penalize a team in the Stanley Cup final. It's a crucial moment for our team."